At Northway Pharmacy Brothers, naloxone kits are flying off the shelves.
The Selkirk Avenue pharmacy in Winnipeg distributes 50-70 kits per week. Each kit contains between two and four doses.
But pharmacy manager Brett Roeland believes the need is actually much higher.
“I’m pretty confident they’re all being used in the community,” he said. “We might be giving out more kits than other areas, but I still think that we are probably under-servicing the area.”
Naloxone is a drug that reverses overdose by knocking opiates off the brain’s receptors. Although the effect is temporary, it can keep patients alive long enough for the opiates to leave their system.
There are two types of naloxone kits. The injectable kit contains syringes and vials of the drug, which is to be injected into the patient’s thigh or upper arm. Nasal naloxone is administered similar to a nasal spray and acts more quickly. Both kits include gloves, a mouth guard for performing CPR, and instructions.
The injectable kits are available at some pharmacies and community organizations free of charge. The nasal kits are covered by the Department of Indigenous Services Canada for First Nations people with a prescription.
The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service administered 1,524 doses of naloxone in 2016. In 2022, they administered 3,628 – an increase of 138 per cent.
Cory Guest with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) believes the increasing strength of the opiates available on the street is partly to blame.
“When we compare the synthetic street drugs today to the drugs of yesterday time, they’re in a completely different category,” he said. “It’s like comparing apples to oranges. They’re just simply that deadly.”
Drugs like “down,” which involve a mix of opiates like fentanyl and a benzodiazepine, have been responsible for numerous overdoses recently.
‘They’re unregulated and people often don’t know what they’re getting,” he said.
In 2020, Guest told Global News that Winnipeg’s opioid crisis was at its worst. Two years later, he says things have sunk below that.
“The symptoms that they’re presenting are at times a challenge for us to treat,” he said, adding it can sometimes take 12 doses of naloxone to revive a patient.
Data from the Chief Medical Examiner’s office shared with Global News by Moms Stop the Harm shows there were 377 drug-related deaths in Manitoba between January and November 2022. The numbers show Roeland that the opioid crisis is not going away.
“We’re not doing enough to fix the problem,” he said.
Often, people who come to Roeland’s pharmacy seeking naloxone are also seeking help. He says three to four people per day come in asking for help accessing addictions treatment services. Roeland points them to other resources in the city, but wishes there were more resources for the growing number of people who need help.
“It is kind of a long journey, but to get turned away at the beginning of that journey is really disheartening for them, and I wish we could do more to initiate when they’re ready,” he said.
People from all walks of life come to his pharmacy seeking naloxone kits; those using drugs, family and friends of users, and people who want to carry the kits in case they pass by someone in crisis.
“Naloxone is something that anyone can use,” he said, “and just saving a life, I think at the end of the day, is one of the most important things.”
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.